Greens must learn to love the ICC
ICC under construction near Derwood.
For many decades, the Maryland environmental movement has hated the Inter-county Connector with a blinding passion. It was their worst nightmare, and the symbol of all that was short-sighted, backward and crassly commercial. They fought it in the county councils at the polls and in the General Assembly and the courts. They almost had it killed in the 1990s, but like some horror story zombie it wouldn't stay dead. The opponents finally lost on all counts, and the ICC is now well on its way to completion.
So now it's time for the greens to fall in love with what they once hated.
Ridiculous, you think? Consider: The ICC is now, for all intents and purposes, existing infrastructure. And one of the central tenets of smart growth is that existing infrastructure is to be cherished. It should be put to maximum possible use so you don't have to build more new infrastructure. That means true environmentalists should stop moping about The Lost Cause and fight to get best use out of the ICC that they can.
But there's more. The ICC is a potential ally in the next big environment-vs.-roads fight in Maryland -- the one over a $4.6 billion plan to add two new lanes in each direction to Interstate 270 between Shady Grove and Frederick.
That plan is being pushed by Montgomery County business and political interests as a way of continuing to concentrate high-tech growth in the I-270 corridor. That made a certain sense when the corridor was arguably isolated from the I-95 corridor by congestion and stop-and-go traffic.
But once the ICC opens in 2010-2012 -- next week in transportation project terms -- the I-270 corridor will be just a hop, skip and a jump from Interstate 95 and U.S. 1. How do we know? That's what the ICC's proponents assured us.
The greens would have a strong argument that the ICC now provides an opportunity to spread the growth around -- especially to the I-95/U.S. 1 corridor. After all, the I-270 corridor is saturated with traffic. Why not ease it by diverting some of that growth to Beltsville, Laurel, Columbia and BWI?
It's an argument that would fall on receptive ears in most parts of the state. A wider I-270 would serve only the interest of Montgomery and arguably vote-poor Western Maryland. (Though those counties are hardly going to be unanimous in support.)
But added high-tech jobs in the I-95 corridor would be much more accessible to people who live in the Baltimore region, Prince George's County, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland. Even much of eastern Montgomery County would find it easier to get to Laurel than Gaithersburg.
And which area can make the better argument that it would broaden the diveristy of Maryland's high-tech work force? Frederick County or the melting-pot that is I-95? The answer is obvious.
And it's all thanks to that lovely ICC, which by all rights should become the most active transit corridor in Maryland. (If the greens can stop moping and push for intensive bus service.)
I feel free to make this suggestion to my green friends because I doubt they will have the good sense to adopt it. Most seem to want to re-fight old ICC battles like an unreconstructed Confederate trying decades later to turn Pickett's Charge into a victory.
So what do you think: Will they get over it before or after they've lost the Battle of I-270?